Whatever one thinks of abortion in theory or in practice, one thing is very clear. Abortion in our generation is like slavery was in the generation leading up to the Civil War. It is the issue that cannot be finessed, which reasonable people cannot find a way past. In the first half of the 19th Century, the Democratic Party adopted the most extreme defense of slavery and the the extension of slavery one could imagine, and would allow no member of its party to rise to national leadership who had a contrary view. The other party, the Whigs, tried to finesse the issue, but finally disintegrated under its internal contradictions, to be replaced by the new Republican Party, which was opposed to slavery in principle and to the extension of slavery in practice.
Today, the Democratic Party has adopted the most extreme defense of abortion and the abortion industry one can imagine, and will allow no member of its party to rise to national leadership who has a contrary view. The other party, the GOP, vacillates between trying to finesse the issue and mustering opposition to it.
Just as there were all kinds of apologists for slavery who would threaten secession and what-all if they were crossed 150 years ago, so there are apologists for the abortion industry that will scream bloody murder and rain obloquy on anyone who steps out of line.
This is what Roe v. Wade has brought us to. Whatever one thinks of abortion, even most abortion proponents agree that the decision of the Supreme Court was wrongly decided, made up out of whole cloth. It is our generation's equivalent of Dred Scott. It has left our society torn and irreconcilable over the great issue of the day.
And what did the Supreme Court accomplish? They thought they were settling the issue. But all they did was shut off a robust discussion among the People and the legislatures of the several States. They interfered with a democratic process they didn't need to mess with. New York had already legalized abortion. Several other States were heading that way. Had SCOTUS not intervened, the probable result would have been that abortion would be freely available in some places, but not others. What is our situation now? Abortion is freely available in some places, but not others. The Court has given us a generation of anger and violence and intractable confrontation, when our Society might have worked through it all to more or less the same result, without all the violence and political battles.
But one thing Roe did was eliminate the back-alley abortionist, right? Take a look at Kermit Gosnell and his filthy, grisly business. This "doctor" is not atypical of many abortion providers today. They don't work in hospitals. They are not regularly inspected. All they do is abortions, all day long. Women die of infections caused by incompetent practitioners. Women are left sterile. Not only fetuses, but live babies are destroyed. This is the pro-choice vision of women's health care? This is what Roe ensures we will never lack? We had this kind of abortion provider back in the Bad Old Days. How has Roe made any of this better?
If Roe were overturned today, what would happen? Would abortion become illegal? No. We would return to the status quo ante, and it would be up to each State to decide what to do with abortion. Given that half the voters (at least) are women, and given that men and women know the complications and passions of this issue, my guess is, within a few years we would resolve it in a patchwork fashion. Abortion would be freely available, but not everywhere. And States could change their minds, in both directions. The People would be asked to weigh their consciences and their compassion and they would come up with the best answers they could. Take a look at the death penalty: it's not the same everywhere, and States change their minds. But unlike abortion, on capital punishment the People are allowed to argue and plead and wrestle with the issue. On the whole, I think they do a pretty good job. Better than nine people in black robes up in Washington could do, in any case.